|PETER AGG – 11 April 1929 to 2 March 2012
March 5 2012.
Some personal memories - by Ray Battersby
Peter Agg was a big man. He had a big body, a big heart and an even bigger personality. His mould was broken the day he was born and I am proud to have known him.
But I don't know how he had the vision to take on the Lambretta franchise in the early fifties and build it up until it became a fashion accessory and I can't explain why he rescued ELVA sports cars in the 1960s nor how he talked Bruce McLaren into allowing him to build McLaren Formula 5000s and Can-Am racers in the seventies. And how did he find the cash to run his own Trojan Formula One racing team? And at the end of the scooter boom, what savvy made him buy the bankrupt Suzuki business from Hambros Bank?
Not a bad track record for a man who started out working in the family wine business.
What I can relate is what I knew of this man. In January 1976, when I became Heron Suzuki GB's technical rep, I learned that Peter Agg, or 'PJ' - as most referred to him, even to his face - was able to balance on the high wire between retaining respect as a manager on one side and being mischievous on the other. This explained the string of long-serving and deeply loyal employees at Beddington Lane.
Over the years I got to know PJ better; from my first day with Suzuki when Rex White suggested I avoid PJ when the scar on his forehead was bulging red, to when I realised that PJ enjoyed getting one over the local plod.
I know PJ was a generous man because when I moved south to join Suzuki I had insufficient cash deposit for a house. No problem. PJ rented me one of his apartments for a paltry £5 per week and within a year, I'd saved sufficient deposit.
When I was Type Approving Suzuki's first little car, PJ would introduce me as 'Battersby' his 'car expert,' an accolade based solely on the fact that I'd spent six years designing engines at Longbridge. He called everybody by their surname but nobody minded. If he was ever the guardsman on the rumour-mill, this trait was its leftover.
Soon I was facing my third speeding endorsement. My solicitor said that to avoid a ban I must persuade Suzuki's TOP man to provide a personal reference in court. Strangely, PJ didn't need persuading; my potential punishment became his personal affront and he was straining at the leash from the moment I asked. We were late driving to Chelsea Magistrate's Court in PJ's Rolls Royce. He almost nudged an old lady in Sloane Square. "Get out the way!" he screamed, his forehead scar bulging. But in court, PJ exuded his guardsman-like gravitas as he explained that I was the only person in Britain who knew about car safety and regularly attended important meetings with the Department of Transport. "He NEEDS his licence," he said, "and if he loses it, the government's project will be delayed." I was saved.
Peter Agg wore his heart on his sleeve. You knew you'd upset him when his scar started to glow. Neither did he mince his words. When somebody tipped the press's wink during delicate negotiations with Barry Sheene, he circulated to every employee a remonstrative memo naming the culprit. It was titled ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Two years later I was researching my Suzuki book. He said, "You've got to go to the USA. You must talk to Merv Wright," (who'd managed Sheene's 1976 World Championship year). The fact that I couldn't afford the ticket was no issue. PJ stumped up for my Freddie Laker Skytrain ticket.
One of the pleasures of working for such an unpredictable, entrepreneur as PJ was that you never knew what you'd be doing from one day to the next. The world changed at his say-so. It changed for me in 1978. Suzuki was suffering its first safety recall after PJ had seen some stylish alloy wheels at the Milan Show and ordered enough to update our stocks of slow-moving wire-wheeled models. Trouble was the alloy spokes used to shear. All of them. After I'd reported several near fatal accidents PJ called me to his office. "Get home and pack a bag. You're on the Alitalia flight to Milan this afternoon," he said. It was my first ever international flight and my baptism in negotiation the Italian way.
Then on a business trip to Canada, PJ found a pile of literally hundreds of water-damaged Lambretta scooters. They'd been shipped to Canada in cardboard boxes and the warehouse over-stacked them. The atmosphere was damp and the boxes collapsed under the weight. PJ bought a morass of soggy cardboard and squashed Lambrettas that were scraped off the floor. It was my job to restore them to a saleable condition. Worse still, they were Indian made; the matchsticks jamming bare wires into bullet-connectors showed how hard this would be...
In this day of the tabloids' manipulation of celebrities and the public at large, let me end on a high, with a tale - possibly apocryphal - that PJ told me of how, in Lambretta's heady days, he got one over the tabloids. It was in the mid-fiftes and the spendthrift antics of Lord and Lady Docker boosted tabloid sales as Rihanna pics do today. PJ announced that the Dockers had ordered a gold-plated Lambretta scooter that would be displayed at the London Motorcycle Show. The scooter was produced and displayed. The press gave it Max Attack; Dockers, Gold, lavish lifestyle in austere post-war Britain. The story had everything.
But that wasn't enough for PJ. He had the scooter removed from Earl's Court overnight and announced it had been stolen. MORE tabloid publicity! And then the machine was found and put back on display - the tabloid's iced Lambretta's cake. This three day front-page story encouraged record crowds onto the Lambretta stand.